The geospatial industry appreciates the enormous value of DEI activities, and this is getting widely acknowledged. Several initiatives to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are being supported enthusiastically. Also, WGIC has started focusing DEI in collaboration with its members and the larger community.
WGIC’s workshop at the Geospatial World Forum 2021 on the 21st of October can be seen as a breakthrough initiative. It aimed to raise awareness on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the geospatial community. A panel moderated by Albert Momo (Vice President and Executive Director – Emerging Markets and Funded Projects at Trimble Inc. and Chair of the Trimble Foundation Fund) emphasized the importance of addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Geospatial community, just as much as discussing technical advancements and industry trends. The panel witnessed a diverse representation from panelists. Monica Sebillo (Eurogi: European Umbrella Organization for Geographic Information), Cyhana Williams (African Women in GIS), Blazenka Micevic (Council of European Geodetic Surveyors), Nicole Blake (Diversity and Inclusion Leader, TomTom), and Pooja Mahapatra (Solution Owner – Geospatial at Fugro).
George Floyd and strategizing for DEI
Albert opened the panel with a rather emotional reflection of the assassination of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man in May 2020, during an arrest after Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis Police Department officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds while three other officers looked on and prevented passers-by from intervening. Momo asserted that, while a frenzy of external forces triggered by the pandemic prompted business leaders worldwide to mobilize, Floyd’s murder prompted periods of intense introspection, during which strategizing for diversity, equity, and inclusion has become an even more concerning issue. According to Albert, diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical because ‘people deserve better’.
What is DEI?
The panel discussion began with each panelist sharing their anecdotal experience with DEI and what motivated them to advocate for change. So, DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Dr. Monica Sebillo, the first female president of the AMFM GIS association and the first female president of Eurogi, reflected on how she frequently found herself as the only female at leadership meetings throughout her career as a female computer scientist. This prompted her to conduct research into the causes of such gender inequality and inspired her to advocate for diversity, equality, and inclusion, with a particular emphasis on gender parity. She then decided to conduct research into this phenomenon and share her findings with colleagues from other countries and sectors.
Diversity includes differences in racial and ethnic groupings, social level, geographic location, and academic/professional backgrounds. People with diverse viewpoints, backgrounds, religious beliefs, political convictions, sexual orientations, heritage, and personal experiences contribute to diversity. The presence of various perspectives in a group is what diversity is all about. The diversity issue is personal for Nicole Blake, TomTom’s Head of CSR & Diversity Management. Facing blatant discrimination as a woman of color in the field of science and technology, right from her student days and continuing into her professional career, shaped Nicole into a strong advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion, and related issues.
While equity is the act of treating everyone fairly and providing equal access to opportunity to all members of a group. Cyhana Williams, the co-founder of African Women in GIS, stated that the lack of females in leadership roles in geospatial and related professions in Africa, as well as the scarcity of role models and mentors to guide her through her early career days, motivated her to do something to help this cause. Today, she and many other women are able to become the kind of mentors to younger women that she once sought through this group of African Women in GIS.
Inclusion is about feeling accepted, appreciated, and heard. Diversity is unsustainable on its own because a sense of belonging (inclusion) and fairness (equity) is essential. The goal of this WGIC initiative was to highlight the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, with a focus on the benefits of diversity, biases that prevent inclusion, and action items to become more inclusive. Dr. Pooja Mahapatra, a Fugro Geospatial Solution Owner, has always been passionate about inclusion and diversity. She asserted that “inclusion” is what we are aiming for, and “diversity” would then come along with it; thus, diversity should not be the goal, but inclusion should be. What is most important is that everyone in their workplace feels safe and motivated enough to contribute “diverse” ideas and perceptions, Dr. Pooja emphasized.
Lack of women leadership
In this WGIC panel, Dr. Blazenca Micevic, founder of AGRODET Ltd, a land surveying and land management company in Croatia, was representing the Council of European Geodetic Surveyors. She notices a lack of women in leadership positions as well as women surveyors who could serve as role models for young people. Blazenca’s motivation to champion the cause stems from a strong desire to increase gender diversity in the surveying profession. Any DEI program in this sector should begin by raising awareness around gender stereotypes and biases that influence early perceptions of professions and hence professional vocations. According to Cyhana, another difficulty is a lack of effective mentorship. Mentoring is a critical component in retaining employees with various skills. She stressed that mentors play a crucial role in professional advancement and that organizations must understand how to effectively build mentorship programs while striving to recruit and retain diverse talent.
The panel explored some of the roadblocks to DEI that they face, notably in the geospatial sector. The panelists concurred that the geospatial community faces the same challenges as the ICT community. The most significant obstructions are people’s preconceptions and stereotypes, cultural expectations, and aversion to change. However, the panel also observed that organizations and executives are more aware of at least one thing. That it is the range of vision that results from the integration of diverse traits that benefits an organization. Diversification alone is inadequate. Merely “ticking the boxes” and having a more diverse workforce is insufficient; equity and inclusion should be the real goal. Nicole added that the primary responsibility of business leaders is to ensure that every voice is heard, amplified, and treated equally. Without this, organizations will be unable to benefit from the progress that supports innovation and success in a diverse environment.
The involvement of ‘the strong part’
Dr. Sebillo stated that the most difficult issue is the involvement of the universe’s “strong part”. To achieve the cultural shift necessary to implement a DEI program, it is critical to raise awareness. This involves the current situation among those who are not directly affected by these forms of prejudice. Indeed, they can contribute to overcoming these obstacles. As an example, when it comes to the gender disparity, the all-women stereotype is no longer viable; men’s engagement in achieving cultural change is critical. Dr. Pooja added that the issue is to synthesize and combine the various points of view into a palatable message, resolution, or activity. So, in order for a truly diverse environment to thrive, an inclusive workplace must be established in order to ensure that people feel welcome and fully capable of contributing.
Interested in starting DEI initiatives?
The esteemed panel had some words of advice for those involved in or interested in starting DEI initiatives. Dr. Monica said, “Two principles are fundamental for people involved in DEI initiatives: inclusiveness and involvement of all parties.” To make DEI a priority, effective leadership, capability-building implementation, and employee engagement are vital. By fostering and supporting talented people from a diverse spectrum it shall be possible to develop a team with strong future foundations. Dr. Pooja remarked that the primary focus should be on inclusion and equity. Without equality, attempts to promote diversity and inclusion are commendable but ineffective. To practice equity is to ensure that all persons have an equal opportunity to reach their full potential.
The “ideal level of Diversity”
The panel concluded that, when it comes to implementing DEI, there isn’t a “one size fits all” option. The first step in creating a diverse workplace is to define an ideal level of diversity. Having policies is a wonderful thing, but it isn’t sufficient. It’s all about raising awareness of the various aspects of workplace diversity. A thorough understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of DEI is critical to the success of such initiatives. Albert Momo concluded that the current notion of DEI involves much more than a program or initiative; it embraces an organization’s fundamental culture. Momo concluded, “Every time we discuss doing something, we must act.” The WGIC, in collaboration with member organizations, acknowledges the critical nature of DEI and commits to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the geospatial community. And it will continue promoting and implementing more such initiatives that increase awareness and effect progressive change.